Monday, October 1, 2012

Planting Churches on a Shoestring

Mainline Protestant Churches have usually had one perferred way of planting churches: the parachute model.  What this entails is a pastor or pastors who come to an area to plant a church.  Sometimes people from nearby congregations give some of their members to become part of the new church.  The church meets in a temporary place for some time and sometimes acquires land to build a new church.  In most cases the church planter is given a full salary just like a pastor in an established congregation.

The costs of this kind of church plant is pretty expensive, with costs running up just south of $500,000. When mainline churches were full of people and full of cash, this model worked.  In our Region, we have used this kind of model over the years, most recently with Spirit of Joy Christian Church in Lakeville, MN and Open Source Christian Church in Rochester, MN.  These plants are showing progress, but we are not likely to see those kind of church plants in the very near future.

Why?  To put it bluntly, we are broke.

The Christian Church in the Upper Midwest does have money to help with planting churches, but we don't have the amounts of money that we used to.  As congregations dwindled, so did budgets and we can't fund churches in the manner we did five years ago, let alone 20 or 50 years ago.

But we as Christians and specifically as Disciples are called to preach the gospel and to plant new communities of faith regardless of what the financial spreadsheets say.  What this means is that we in the Upper Midwest Region are going to have to learn how to do church planting on a shoestring budget.

While such an idea might seem new to those of us in Mainline Protestant Churches, this is somewhat old hat in evangelical churches, which never really had the monetary resources we used to have. It might be hard for us to get used to this new paradigm, but it might just force us to be more creative in planting churches and rely more on God to the work of the gospel through us.

The Church of the Nazarene, an evangelical denomination, has to put together a slide show on how to plant churches on a shoestring.  Now, the slide is not balanced- in fact it is quite biased to this way of church planting.  But we need to listen to what they have to say, because it opens a new way of responding to an age old call to preach the gospel.

So, here's what they say about the "old" model:

As we look at the denominations and groups that are growing, and at the groups that are losing members, we see two contrasting types of models for their new works.
  1. In their new church development, those denominations that are losing members tend to focus on purchasing land for new building sites and on providing a building for new congregations.
  2. Groups declining in membership tend to insist on full salary and benefits provided for all workers.
  3. The focus is different.  Movements losing members tend to start new churches to serve “our people” who have moved there.
  4. No one at a district office, much less at a faraway denominational office, can possibly know a community and monitor the progress as well as those close at hand.
  5. Denominations losing members tend to begin a new congregation with a basic unit of the eventual building.  They want as a minimum some church school rooms and perhaps a fellowship hall which can be used at the outset for worship.
  6. The bottom line is cost.  If you lean heavily on the ingredients in the left hand column, you find it necessary to invest $500,000 to a 1 million mission dollars or more to get a new congregation off the ground.

Put aside the whole my-church-is-better-than-yours rhetoric for a moment and focus on two of the six points, number 2 which talks about full-time salaried staff and the final point which says the amount needed to fund a new church with this method is anywhere from $500K to 1 million.  Now, I'm all for making sure a staff is paid well for their work.  But as even established churches have trouble paying for a full-time pastor, we have to consider a time when church planters won't be getting a full salary.  What we will have to face is a future where a Region can only pay a portion of a salary and the church planter is going to have have to find other jobs to make the difference.  In short, I am saying pastors are going to have consider being tentmakers.

Back to the slideshow and what it says about the Shoestring Model:

In Contrast:
  1. The groups that are growing tend to focus instead on unreached people.  They see the need and attempt to find the least expensive way to reach them.
  2. Growing movements are more willing to use bi-vocational workers.  Oscar Romo of the Southern Baptists’ ministry to ethnics estimates that one-third of their pastoral leadership is bi-vocational.  In some cases the mate will support the pastor until there is sufficient support for a full salary.
  3. Lyle Schaller, expert church consultant, says that a reasonable goal is that “60 to 80 percent of the members of a typical new mission will be persons who, immediately before joining that mission, were not actively involved in the life of any worshipping congregation.”
  4. One denominational executive in this field said, “But how would we ever control it?”  The answer is, “You wouldn’t.”  The problem is similar to that face by the Jerusalem church when the rapid-fire church planting of the Apostle Paul was taking place.
  5. Growing groups often begin with a Bible study and fellowship group in a home.  They are more than willing to start with a community facility which can be rented or leased.
  6. If your focus is on the items like those in the right hand column, it is very possible to multiply many times over the possibilities for new starts because each is begun… on a shoestring!

 Now working on a shoestring doesn't mean that a church plant will be successful.  It might very just flop.  But it's not unusual that the church doesn't always have all the resources needed to do the job.  Sometimes we have to work with what we have and see how God moves.  If Jesus was able to feed thousands of people with just some fish and some bread, I imagine God can do a mighty work with the little we have as well.

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